Therapeutic Space

The Third in the Room:

An enquiry into the role and impact of space in the psychoanalytic process

Katie Hutchinson, October 2020

It was World Mental Health Day on Saturday, which prompted a discussion in the studio and raised the question – how can we design with mental wellbeing in mind, particularly in light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic?

The spaces we are in have a huge impact on our mental wellbeing; a fact which was more profoundly felt during the peak of lockdown, when so many of us were only able to leave our homes once a day. This reinforced the importance of several factors that are sometimes missing from modern homes and buildings – such as adequate sunlight, attractive views, external space, and quiet cosy spaces for uninterrupted working – or often in my case – hibernation.

The psychological significance of space must be at the core of the architect’s agenda – if not, then what are we designing for?

The relationship between space and mental health is a particular interest of mine and became the focus of a research paper in which I explored the topics of confessional and therapeutic space based on analysis of the consulting rooms of Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung – the respective founders of Psychoanalysis and Analytical Psychology.

Space formed a key part of their therapeutic practices, prompting psychological exploration and contributing to a sense of security for those taking part in psychotherapy. In the process of researching the paper, a series of key spatial themes were identified, which support the techniques and approach of each psychoanalyst. The next step for us at BiBO is to continue to analyse therapeutic spaces and integrate what we find into the design process – with the hope that our buildings will support and facilitate the mental wellbeing of their inhabitants.


Following its establishment in the late 19th Century, the discipline of psychoanalysis has had a revolutionary impact on mental health treatment. Whilst psychoanalytical theories have been well-examined, the impact of space on the process remains widely unexplored.

This research paper investigates the impact that the spatial environment of the domestic psychoanalytical consulting room has on the process of psychoanalysis. Using archetypal features of confessional space as a framework, derived from analysis of the Catholic confessional chamber, this paper analyses the original consulting rooms of the two most famous proponents of psychoanalysis: Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung. Using the analysts’ original writings as lenses for exploration, in addition to a detailed review of existing literature, this paper will determine whether space is able to make an active contribution to the psychoanalytical process, assuming the role of the “third in the room”.

A PDF of the complete dissertation is available here.

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